U.S.-bound migrants fed misinformation about border crossing, per watchdog
As more migrants make their way over, human smugglers are using Facebook and WhatsApp to misrepresent conditions and policies along the U.S.-Mexico border.
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U.S.-bound migrants, especially from Mexico, have increased significantly in the time President Joe Biden has been in office. As conditions in Latin, Central, South America worsen due to crime, poverty, and droughts, millions are willing to take the dangerous trip north. With the administration warning migrants to not make the trip, the multi-billion dollar business that is human smuggling is able to reach many more.
It was an issue Biden discussed with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador at the White House earlier this month amid tragedies like the one in San Antonio, which left more than 50 migrants dead in an abandoned sweltering trailer pulled over on the side of the road. What happened in San Antonio was considered to be the “worst human-smuggling event in the United States.” More migrants are also willing to take on the beast of the sea instead of the traditional border crossing by foot.
As first reported by CNN, a report released Wednesday, July 27, by the Tech Transparency Group, a research and information hub, revealed that human smugglers are frequently using social media platforms Facebook and WhatsApp, popular apps in the region, to spread misinformation about the immigration policies and showing supposed favorable conditions along the U.S., Mexican border.
"The misinformation has led people in the region to think it's a lot easier to get into the United States than it is in reality,” Director of the Tech Transparency Project Katie Paul, said in a statement about the report.
As is the case with a lot of misinformation that plagues news cycles and social media apps, it is becoming increasingly tougher for many to know what is true and what is not. Even though many migrants understand the danger involved with migrating over to the U.S., because of all the wrong information being purposely targeted at them, they cannot fight off the sheer volume of it.
"Some of the false information posted online about environmental conditions appeared to influence survey respondents' decision-making about their own migration attempts,” reads part of the report.
In it, researchers found that migrants are relying heavily on word-of-mouth and platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp to find the routes to take, which more often than not is misleading and incorrect. Furthermore, fellow migrants are sharing false information with other potential migrants.
Posts found on these applications include authorities at the border allowing pregnant women to enter, and showing favorable conditions along the border that include the actual state of rivers that migrants have to cross and then show fake documents.
The migrants interviewed in the report also provided some of the posts they saw that influenced their decision. Despite what they perceived to be “too good to be true'' information and the risks, they still went ahead with the trip. As the Biden administration looks to slow down the sudden increase in migrants, the misinformation poses a constant threat.
The report revealed that the posts themselves were comparable to that of travel advertisements that many are accustomed to, as the smugglers sold their services by including words and phrases like ‘coyote,’ ‘promising easy journeys,’ and even guaranteeing them successful trips to the U.S. They were usually categorized under ‘travel company,’ and ‘product/service.’
According to the findings, smugglers were using local resale services like Marketplace, and smuggling ads would appear underneath posts about supposed sales of a motorcycle or a piece of furniture.
The U.S. State Department along with the U.S. Customs and Border Protections have launched advertisements fighting against this very issue in hopes of reaching migrants who plan on making the trip.
"We amplify these messages through television, radio, and print media stories generated via interviews with U.S. Government spokespeople in Washington D.C. and at our overseas Embassies.” said a spokesperson for the State Department.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection also launched a two-month advertisement campaign called
“Say No to the Coyote” to caution against the lies and misinformation.
This report is the first of more in a series from the Tech Transparency Project, as they look to show the major influence of social media on migrants.